THE ASPHALT JUNGLE

Written for the catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna (June-July 2017). — J.R.

asphalt01

It might be excessive to claim that The Asphalt Jungle (1950) invented the heist thriller (also known as the caper film), but at the very least one could say that it provided the blueprint for the most successful examples of that subgenre that would follow it, including (among others) The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), Rififi (1955), The Killing (1956), Seven Thieves (1960),  The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), and Reservoir Dogs (1992)—not to mention  such parody versions as Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958) and most of the latter films of Jean-Pierre Melville, including Bob le flambeur (1956), Le deuxième souffle, (1966), and Le cercle rouge (1970). Indeed, The Asphalt Jungle was regarded as such a master text by Melville that one isn’t surprised to find over a dozen references to it in Ginette Vincendeau’s book about him. According to Geoffrey O’Brien, Melville once “declared that…there were precisely nineteen possible dramatic variants on the relations between cops and crooks, and that all nineteen were to be found in [John Huston’s masterpiece].”

In short, the reverberations in this MGM A-feature are multiple, although that doesn’t prevent it from still seeming fresh today.… Read more »

Imitation Flavors

From the Chicago Reader (July 20, 2001). — J.R.

America’s Sweethearts

Rating * Has redeeming facet

Directed by Joe Roth

Written by Billy Crystal and Peter Tolan

With Julia Roberts, Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack, Hank Azaria, Stanley Tucci, and Christopher Walken.

The Score

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed by Frank Oz

Written by Kario Salem, Lem Dobbs, Scott Marshall Smith, and Daniel E. Taylor

With Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Angela Bassett, Marlon Brando, and Gary Farmer.

“Talent means nothing if you don’t make the right choices,” says seasoned safecracker and jazz-club manager Robert De Niro in The Score, as he sets up “one last score” before he quits the game for good. It’s the only sensible thing anyone says in either this movie or America’s Sweethearts, a clunky ribbing of the movie industry, and whoever was making the big choices about these pictures should have taken it as advice. Both appear to be agents’ packages first and movies second, so that even though they’re trying hard to recapture the feel of Hollywood standbys — the heist thriller and the satiric screwball comedy — they seem to proceed from the premise that all that’s required is to throw the right number of “talented” elements in the same direction.… Read more »

Print the Legend: Media Manipulation in American Films: Try & Get Me, Ace in the Hole, Sweet Smell of Success

The following was written to accompany a film series put together by Ehsan Khoshbakht, Imogen Sara Smith, and myself for a tour in Turkey in late 2018 sponsored by the American Embassy. I don’t know yet if it’s being used in this form.  — J.R.

“Fake news”, the term paradoxically used by Donald Trump for journalism that exposes his own lies and corruption, evokes what George Orwell called New-speak in 1984, whose slogans included “war is peace” and “ignorance is strength”. Trump’s cleverness as a media manipulator consists of appropriating the very term that describes his own practice while reversing its meaning so that his opponents — including the people who put together this film program about “fake news,” my colleagues and myself — can no longer use it without speaking on Trump’s behalf. This is surely manipulation with a vengeance, where control over both language and presence becomes another form of class inequality. So when TV executives remark that Trump is bad for America but good for television, they’re only suggesting that these two latter entities have separate agendas and even separate owners, neither of which happens to be the American public.